Software Writing
Using BetaBooks For My Beta Readers
November 14, 2017
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BetaBooks

A few weeks ago I sent out a request for Beta Readers on the Facebook group I belong to and received a few replies from people who were interested in reading my WIP. I was excited and scared at the same time, as it was the first time putting my fantasy story out into the world and I didn’t know how it was going to be received. I have done several Beta reads for other authors and the process usually involves sending over a pdf or a link to Google Docs. But over the summer, I had discovered a new product on the internet titled BetaBooks.

BetaBooks is a web-based app that lets you break your WIP up into chapters, create specific feedback questions for those chapters, and then send invites to potential Beta Readers. Once they accept the invitation, the Beta Reader can read as many or as few chapters as they desire.

BetaBooks Feedback

And after each chapter, there’s a box with the author’s feedback questions and a box for the reader to submit their questions/feedback. As an author, you can receive emails whenever a reader leaves feedback for one of your chapters. And the cool thing about the feedback is that there is a drop-down menu that lets you organize each piece of feedback and let you decide if it’s a piece of advice you want to act on or just read it and move on.

BetaBooks Comment

I have found that feedback mechanism quite useful as I go back and edit my novel. While I have Scrivener open with my novel, I keep the feedback page in BetaBooks open in a browser so that I can make sure I incorporate that feedback into the next draft of my novel. Once I’m satisfied that I have covered the feedback, I mark it as “Done,” refresh my browser, and the next chapter’s feedback moves to the top of the list. Once all the feedback has been marked Done, I know that I have covered all the feedback from my Beta Readers.

As this is my first time through the Beta Reader process, I have nothing else to compare it against. I do know that when I read someone else’s WIP in Google Docs, I make extensive use of the comment feature and then I have to send a separate email with my overall concluding feedback. With BetaBooks, the reader cannot make inline comments as of this writing, but the end of chapter feedback, and having it tailored to my specific questions, makes organizing reader comments a breeze.

If your novel is ready for the Beta Reading process, I highly suggest giving BetaBooks a try. Their free version allows you to invite up to 3 Beta Readers and have one book available at a time. If you have multiple books or want more than three readers, you can subscribe to the service for $14.99/month. The cost is well worth it, IMHO. I can’t imagine doing the Beta Reading process any other way.

David

Writing
And Now, The Editing Phase
October 23, 2017
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I finished the first draft of The Chronicles of Talam – Book 1 at the end of July. I had set an aggressive 15-day goal to write and finish a 40,000-word novella before leaving on a family vacation as I wrote about before. During the month of August, as I took a hiatus from writing and let my first draft marinate for a while, I took up drawing. It was something I’ve always loved to do but never quite continued with it long enough to get proficient at it (sounds familiar to any number of my life’s pursuits). I had to stop, though, as I developed Trigger Thumb from overuse (think carpal tunnel for the thumb).

At the beginning of September, I printed out my first draft, grabbed a yellow notepad, and sat down and read through my first draft. I found myself not editing much in terms of large-scale plot or character points and that worried me. This was the first draft, after all. It’s supposed to be messy and need lots of cleanup. What’s wrong with me? Do I think too highly of myself and my writing? I don’t think so. For one thing, this is the fourth attempt at this particular story so I think I have the characters and the plot down rather solidly. It’s as if I had outlined the entire thing multiple times. I also tend to like what I write and that’s a problem. This is why I recently just finished reading the rest of the first draft and I am now in the editing stage. So far, it seems to be going rather swiftly. I think the fact that its a novella has something to do with that as well. 40K words is not a long book and it seems quite manageable from an editing perspective.

Of course, the real test will be the feedback I receive from Beta Readers and a few trusted friends and family to see just how close or far I am to a completed story. If anyone is interested in being a Beta Reader, contact me and I will add you to the list.

David

Writing
Outline Your Novel Using a Floating Outline
August 17, 2017
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As I’ve written a few times before, I’m a pantser who struggles with outlining. I’ve tried using beats from the famous screenwriting novel “Save the Cat.” I tried Libbie Hawker’s method from her book “Take Off Your Pants.” I’ve written a detailed synopsis and tried to extract a story from it with no luck. Why, if I’m a pantser, don’t I just write like a pantser?

In the ebook self-publishing world, volume of output matters and is a great harbinger on your chance of success. To be as prolific as I plan to be–put out a new book every 3-4 months–I’m going to need to write a shit ton of books in a short amount of time, and when you write pantser style, the rewriting process can take up to three times as long as the original first draft. I have no time for that. So what have I settled upon as my outlining method of choice?

Photo by Sticker Mule on Unsplash

It’s something I stumbled upon while watching one of Brandon Sanderson’s lecture videos and it’s called a Floating Outline. I’m not sure if I understood his process one hundred percent correctly, but the takeaway was more than enough to get me started and put my own little twist on things. Who knows, maybe I got it exactly right and am doing it just like Brandon?

In the larger view of things, I adopted Brandon’s approach: he outlines his plot and story but he discovers his characters as he writes. So he’s kind of a mix between a plotter and a pantser. He plans out his story in detail and then he goes to work outlining using the Floating Outline approach. Basically, he has a notebook full of “awesome” scenarios or scenes that he wants to happen in his book. I have come to call them “Plot Awesomes” (as I think about it, I think Story Awesomes would be better). The idea is to write out an awesome scene you want to happen in your book, say, the two lovers finally share a kiss. So that would be the header of that particular Plot Awesome. Underneath that, you start adding bullet points in backward order that would lead to your awesome scene. Let’s take a look at an example:

A & B Finally Kiss

  • A saves B’s life
  • B tells A to get out of B’s life
  • A and B end up in same location
  • A …

Those are just some quick and dirty examples off the top of my head. I would finish that list and then move onto the next Plot Awesome. Usually I’ll have a minimum of 4 Awesomes I want to happen. One is usually romantic in nature, the other serves the over arching plot, and then the rest are things that round out the story. I will then go back and edit them to make them a bit less general and more specific. So at the end, the idea is you have an awesome climax scene and the pieces it will take to get there. As Brandon says, he outlines backward but writes forward.

Using Scrivener, I then start creating Chapter folders and inserting at least one bullet point (starting from the bottom up), sometimes more, in each chapter. What’s cool is that they can be combined so that you are advancing two or more different Awesome plot points in the same chapter without it feeling forced. I then cross out the bullet points as I use them and create another Chapter folder and use one or more bullet points, cross it off, repeat. By the end of the outlining process, I have my entire book outlined and the several different plot points/story lines meshed together naturally.

This was the process I used for creating the first draft of The Chronicles of Talam #1. I would say I followed my outline pretty rigidly until I got 25% into the book then I started to deviate as the story took off on ideas of its own. I still had the outline to use as a foundation but I would say that by the end of my first draft, I would say I stuck with 50% of my outline and the rest came about as I wrote. This process seemed comfortable to me and it allowed more of my creativity to come out during the writing process than if I just started out in full pantser mode.

Anyone else use a similar method to outlining their novels?

David

Software Writing
Using Tiddlywiki for World Building
August 9, 2017
2

Scrivener is fantastic for outlining, planning and writing your novel or short story. However, I did discover while writing the first draft of my fantasy novella that all the names of places and characters got overwhelming. I needed something to tie it all together better, something interactive even, like a wiki.

Tiddlywiki

After a quick Google search, I came across a few articles talking about personal wikis and the one that appealed most to me was Tiddlywiki. It’s super simple and the entire program is written in a single HTML document. After downloading the “software,” the best browser to use with it is Firefox as there is a TiddlyFox plugin that works seamlessly with Tiddlywiki.

Once you load the file into your local browser, it’s easy to start adding items to your wiki. However, I do recommend watching a few short tutorial videos on YouTube from Francis Meetze that will make starting out even easier. To start, I entered place and character names that I had already created before I began writing into the wiki. Then, while writing my first draft and new places and characters came up, I added those to the wiki and linked them to each other via common characteristics such as place, race, etc.

During my first draft, I left the descriptions in each wiki as short and quick as possible, almost more like a reference than a detailed description. As I edit my first draft, I plan on filling in the details in each wiki so that when all is said and done, I have a thorough and interactive personal wiki of my fantasy world (once the series is complete, I can put the entire thing on this website as a reference). I anticipate it will come in handy even more during the writing and editing of subsequent books in the planned series.

Anyone else out there using Tiddlywiki for their world building?

David

Writing
Anxiety and Writing
August 2, 2017
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I think almost all writers experience writing anxiety as they face the blank page, but that’s not the kind of anxiety I’m talking about. I’m talking about ANXIETY, the not-quite panic attack, but still immobilizing feeling that takes over both mind and body. Triggered by some personal issues a couple of years ago, I was diagnosed with Anxiety, which was a welcome diagnosis at the time, and I was able to cope with it through some lifestyle changes, therapy, and meditative techniques.

I have had a handle on it for a long time until the night before I was due to finish the first draft of my fantasy novella. I woke up in the middle of the night with the familiar panic attack symptoms. Fortunately, I was able to quell the attack before it became acute. But when I woke up in the morning, I had that undercurrent of nervousness that is hard to explain to anyone who has never experienced it before. It makes you want to just sit on the couch and drown out the world. When I got up to make breakfast, I even got the sour feeling in my cheeks like right before vomiting, but I didn’t feel nauseous. Basically, I was a mess.

The only thing that could have triggered it, in my opinion, was the impending completion of my first draft of my novella. I would have thought finishing the draft would evoke feelings of euphoria and excitement, not nervousness and a sense of dread. But I think it’s because I have been deriding myself for so long for starting and stopping so many things without finishing them that the fact that I was actually about to accomplish something I set out to do put my emotions in a spiritual clothing dryer.

It still doesn’t make sense to me, but all I know is, that as I sat down to finish those last 2,500 words, my anxiety level declined. And when I finished the first draft later that day, I felt much better. I did celebrate somewhat, but then that was quickly replaced by all these ideas that came flooding in for the rewrite. Such is the writer’s life. A work is never done until it’s out the door.

David